The Manger Scene

Throughout the years while I was raising my four kids (beginning in 1954), I kept a journal where I periodically made notes about holidays, school, vacations, etc.  As an occasion arises where I think one of my journal entries would be pertinent, I’m going to post it just as I wrote or typed it back in the day (except for an explanatory note or correction of a typo).  

The children will be known here by the nicknames their grandfather used when they were toddlers:  The oldest daughter will be Newsie (because she was as good as a newspaper for finding out the latest happenings), the oldest son is Bar (because he called Grandpa’s truck Bar and Grandpa called him Bar), the youngest son is Jackson, and the youngest daughter is Shanty (as in Shanty-Boat).

In 1954, I had an 8-month-old baby girl and was looking forward to her first Christmas.

Newsie, 8 months old, 1954

One day in December, I carried Newsie on one arm, a folding Taylor Tot on the other, and boarded the bus to go to downtown Cincinnati.  My mother worked in the large Shillito’s department store and I liked to meet her at lunchtime to do a little shopping.  That year, for my first Christmas with a baby in the house, I really wanted what we called a manger scene – or creche or crib – with the little figures to set up on a table.  We found one with a cardboard stable complete with the Holy Family, angels, shepherds, wise men, sheep, a donkey and a cow.

I fell in love with it but didn’t have the $5 to purchase it.  My mother bought it for me on the spot and it has held a place of honor for all these years.

I arranged the set on a low table so that little ones could get a good view of it.  I don’t recall Newsie ever touching the figures, but the two brothers who soon came along were inclined to use the stable as a parking garage for their mini cars, with the figures scattered helter-skelter.

When little sister Shanty came along in 1970, she was just as fascinated with it:

“We are just about ready for Christmas, 1972.  The tree has been up for a couple of weeks now and Shanty continuously takes down ornaments, rearranges ornaments, breaks ornaments….She fools with the tree constantly and is almost as bad with the manger scene.  At any time we can find the whole set down on the floor where she has been ‘playing house’ with it.
December, 1972”

Shanty, 2 years of age, 1972

The stable has been replaced many times.  Some of the figures were broken – the wisemen seemed to be particularly hard-hit – and I was lucky to find vintage replacements for them in an antique store about 20 years ago.  Most of the figures are original with one headless sheep…

… and just a few chips here and there.  Now, the manger scene sets as it always did, low enough for small children to get a good look at the figures and maybe even switch them around a little.  I don’t mind the chips when I see little hands moving the angels forward a bit or repositioning the donkey.  This year, the great-grandson  arranged the figures as if they were on a stage with everyone facing the audience.

Happy 77th – to me!


Actually, my birthday isn’t until Wednesday, but my two daughters and I like to celebrate birthdays the entire weekend before the big day.  So, on Friday evening my oldest daughter showed up for her usual weekend visit with flowers and two pints of gelato – let the fun begin!

When I went to the kitchen on Saturday morning I found a gift on the table to think about until my daughter got up for breakfast.


It was two towels, hand-embroidered redwork with horses – I’m sure they’re harness horses.


We met my youngest daughter and her two children for lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant and did some shopping in the afternoon.

On Sunday morning, on the kitchen table was the most gorgeous box that was shaped like a book – and I wondered if it might be a book or a box with something wonderful in it.


It was indeed a box with some amazing contents:  An 1883 autograph book that belonged to a woman living in Cozaddale, Ohio – a small town close to where we live.  Each page was filled with sentimental verses in the most elegant handwriting.  Did everyone write that beautifully in the 1880s?  In addition, there was a handwritten list by the woman’s daughter identifying the people who had contributed to the book.  Then, my daughter had taken it further by finding census records for the people and information on Cozaddale, as well as locating a book written in 1960 about the founder.

And the day had just begun.  At lunchtime, my youngest daughter, her husband and children came for dinner, after which there were more gifts including a Garrison Keiller CD, a Minnesota State Fair book, microwave steamer dishes, a big brass alarm clock with an alarm I can actually hear, a new garden flag and a set of solar lights for the front yard,

flaglts…a candle, a Jadite hen covered dish, mini loaf pans, a drop cookie maker, embroidered pillow cases and embroidered redwork panels for me to use to make a quilt.

The grandchildren, known here as Jellyfish (10) and Dolphin (6), made their own special gifts.  They each made molded, fragrant soap and they made decorated boxes to hold the soap.  Dolphin also made a horse light catcher and Jellyfish worked with his mother in assembling a book of his photographs of my “favorite things” – family members, of course, and all kinds of neat things that are in my house.


As usual, the youngest daughter brought her renowned Best of Show White Cake with Caramel Frosting.  After cake and gifts, the girls, the grandchildren and I took a drive to – where else? – Cozaddale – a pretty drive on a late September day.

I was sorry to see everything end – and I don’t think it could all have been done in less than a weekend.


Grandparents’ Day and a New Dessert


Yesterday, on Grandparents’ Day, my two youngest grandchildren showed up at my front door, bearing handmade gifts as usual …. six-year-old Dolphin ….


…and ten-year-old Jellyfish (currently in training as a “Ghostbuster”).

joshsuitJellyfish had taken my picture last week and printed out a frame and mounted it plus he made a great bookmark.


Dolphin had promised me a hundred times on Saturday that she would make my favorite Scottie, which she did, along with a colored picture of a grandma and granddaughter baking.  She even made her own wrapping paper and a paper bow.

gifts_0002Their mother has always had a mug made up with a picture on it for Grandparents’ Day.  This year, number 11 will join the others on my special shelf.


I fixed a roast beef dinner for the family and for dessert tried out one I had seen on All Recipes, Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball.  I called it a “girly” dessert but my son-in-law and grandson managed to enjoy some of it, maybe not as much as my two daughters and I did.


  • 8 oz. package of cream cheese (not low-fat or Neufchatel), softened
  • 1/2 cup butter (butter only, no substitutes), softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tblsp. light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup toffee bits
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

In a medium bowl, beat together the softened cream cheese and softened butter until smooth.  Mix in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, shape the chilled cream cheese mixture into three balls.  Wrap each ball in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Before serving, roll one ball in toffee bits, one in pecans and keep one with just the chocolate chips.

I served these dessert cheese balls with honey pretzels, thin cinnamon wafers and Golden Delicious apple slices.

The comments on All Recipes indicated some people had problems getting the mixture to form a ball.  Other people suggested storing the beaten cheese mixture in a metal bowl and refrigerating overnight.  They also stressed using only full-fat butter and cream cheese.  I followed these suggestions and had no problems forming the balls.

It was a fun dessert and a nice ending to our Grandparents’ Day dinner.


A Day at Kings Island


When I was raising my first three children in Cincinnati in the 1950s and 1960s, our amusement park was Coney Island on the Ohio River, east of town.  There were rides including a gorgeous merry-go-round and an exciting Shooting Star roller coaster, shady picnic groves, a huge swimming pool, and a big lake for paddle boats.  It had everything we needed and the kids loved it.

By the time my fourth child was a toddler in 1972, things had changed.  Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, became the place to go.  We didn’t get to visit that often because it was expensive for a big family and a long drive from our house, but it’s the place that my youngest daughter remembers fondly.

Coney Island has remained in business and we visit a couple of times a year, but now we all live about 10 minutes from Kings Island and my daughter buys season passes for everybody.

Last week, I went along for the sights and sounds of Kings Island with my daughter and two grandchildren, known here as Jellyfish (age 10) and Dolphin (age 6).  I don’t get on any of the rides but I come in handy sitting with one of the kids while the other is on a favorite ride with mother.  The Beast is one of Jellyfish’s favorites.


Dolphin has a lot of exciting rides to choose from like the Dodgems, the Scrambler, Shake Rattle & Roll, a kid-sized roller coaster ….


sydwaterA ride I like to watch is the old 1926 merry-go-round which was moved from Coney Island.



It has 48 beautiful horses….


Jellyfish is a very good photographer and took the pictures in this post (except this one).  This is a view from the top of the Kings Island Eiffel Tower, a 1/3 replica of the one in Paris.


We all had several hours of fun and then drove the short distance to my house for lunch.  Just like in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, I have a chance to enjoy going on a summer outing with some cute kids.

A Young Artist-Crafter

syd-dressMy five-year-old granddaughter (known here as Dolphin) is a budding artist-crafter.  As soon as she was able to hold a pencil or crayon in her hand, she started creating artwork.  She loves the idea of recycling and finding uses for odd items in a craft.  Everything is fair game – wrappers from the straws at McDonald’s as well as the paper napkins, bits of fabric, beads, pretty stones, cereal boxes, etc., etc.  Her mother and I both keep an area well stocked with all kinds of paper, tape, crayons, markers – all Dolphin needs is an inspiration to get her started and she gets inspired multiple times an hour.  She’s come up with some really interesting projects and I can’t wait to see what she’ll do as she gets older and more experienced.

For my Easter gift, she used a kit rather than one of her own creations, but carefully put together a unicorn with a tiny flower.  I told her I would  mount it and frame it so I could set it up and admire it.  She specified a blue frame and I printed out a background with a moon.  Her only complaint was that she thought red flowers on the frame would have looked nice and I imagine there will be some on it as soon as she has a chance to work on them.


The Grandkids Bake Christmas Cookies


When my children were growing up, I don’t recall their ever being interested in helping with the cookie baking and I didn’t have the time or ingredients to waste, so I just made the cookies myself without any help from them.  When my grandchildren started arriving in the 1980s, though, I thought it would be nice to have them come to the house, starting when they were about 3 years old, to make Christmas cookies.  Granddaughter #1 loved mixing the dough, using all the different cutters, and decorating with sugar.

She is now married with two children and her husband is in Iraq this Christmas.


Grandson #1 joined his sister when he turned 3, and his specialty was piling lots of sugar on the cookies and cracking the eggs to mix in the batter.


Granddaughter #2 made it a threesome and her favorite cookies are still the cutout Butter Crisps. She has two children who are too young to help her with baking, but the 2-1/2 year old likes the cookies, too.


There was a hiatus of a few years between when the older grandchildren grew up and before the youngest came along.  This year, Dolphin and Jellyfish came to do their best  and Jellyfish takes it all very seriously.


Dolphin is also serious about her baking but takes a more fun approach.


All of the kids have enjoyed the baking but most of all, enjoyed taking home plates of their own creations.

Here is a gingerbread cookie that the older grandchildren liked to make.


  • Servings: Depends on size of cutters and thickness of dough
  • Print

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream sugar, shortening and molasses until smooth.  Blend in egg.  Mix together dry ingredients.  Add to creamed mixture and blend well.  Form into a flat circle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate dough at least one hour.

Roll out dough on floured board 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick.  Cut out with floured cutters.  Place cookies 1/2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.